Leitao to make return when UConn men's basketball hosts DePaul

Published on Tuesday, 29 December 2020 11:47
Written by NEILL OSTROUT

JOURNAL INQUIRER

Dave Leitao is a graduate of Northeastern University but for all intents and purposes, he’s an alumnus of the UConn men’s basketball program.

Leitao has returned to his de facto alma mater before and faced the Huskies from the opposition’s bench since leaving the Husky coaching staff in 2002.

But when he takes his DePaul team to Storrs Wednesday night (9 p.m., CBS-Sports Network) it will be the first time he’s been to a game in Gampel Pavilion since his departure.

“For me, 18 years is a long time,” Leitao said Monday on a Zoom call with reporters.

Leitao, an assistant to Jim Calhoun with Huskies from 1986-94 and then again from 1996-2002, says he has a litany of good memories of his time in Storrs.

He fondly recalled the days of coaching Phil Gamble, Spider Ursery, Jeff King and Cliff Robinson, the final three of whom have since died, to the 1988 NIT title. He also smiled while discussing the remarkable breakthrough of the 1999 national championship team.

“It means something, quite obviously, but 18 years is 18 years,” Leitao said. “So many things are different in my life and so many things on campus there are different.

“So I don’t know that I spend as much time thinking about that as I do the roster that’s the currently there and the lineup and what we have to do to win.”

Leitao, who has also been a head coach at Northeastern and Virginia, is now in his second stint at DePaul, with a 208-228 overall record in 15 seasons. The New Bedford, Massachusetts native also played for Calhoun at Northeastern from 1978-82.

Many at UConn still consider Leitao part of the “family.”

“Over 37 years a lot of time has been spent in Storrs and a lot of relationships are ongoing. It means a lot from a historical standpoint and I’ll always cherish that,” Leitao said. “It’s where I grew up as a man and where I grew up as a coach.

“But as the ball gets thrown up, none of that really matters. It just matters that both Danny (Hurley) and I are going to try to win the game.”

UConn (3-1) has had its share of trouble just trying to play games, but DePaul (1-1) has been hit even harder by COVID-19 issues.

The Blue Demons didn’t play their first game until two days before Christmas, a 91-72 win over Western Illinois. Game No. 2 for Leitao’s squad came Sunday, a 95-90 double-overtime loss at Providence.

“We’re still getting comfortable with who we are,” Leitao admitted.

As for the Huskies, Leitao believes his team will have another significant challenge, particularly in the form of UConn’s sophomore shooting guard.

“James Bouknight playing his first Big East game and getting 40 points kind of gets my attention,” Leitao said. “It looks like he’s well on his way to becoming another in the long line of really great players that Connecticut has had.”

UConn, idle since a painful 76-74 overtime loss to then-No. 9 Creighton Dec. 20, is beginning it climb back to the lofty perch people such as Leitao helped it reach before. And Leitao still playfully recalls those humble beginnings.

In the mid-1980s when he and Calhoun arrived in Storrs, the goals were nothing close to winning a national championship.

“The highlight of your season was being the eighth team in the 8-9 game,” Leitao said of the Big East Tournament’s old format, which featured a Wednesday night affair in Madison Square Garden that often attracted very few fans and was treated something like a play-in game to the main event.

UConn alums often enjoy telling stories of the old days when they return to campus, and Leitao is no different. His situation is unique, however, as he hopes to watch the Huskies lose during his return this week.



Posted in New Britain Herald, UConn on Tuesday, 29 December 2020 11:47. Updated: Tuesday, 29 December 2020 11:49.